Four individuals in recovery from addiction recently graduated from Lancaster County’s Drug Court at an emotional ceremony where they discussed their difficult journeys and embraced the judge who presided over their path.
Ryan Forbes, also in recovery and now many years from his repeated, drug-fueled run-ins with local police, told the graduates – and the many current Drug Court participants:
“It is time to build a future for yourself… Your gradation is merely the first floor of the rest of your life.”
Lancaster County Judge David Ashworth, who has presided over Drug Court since its inception in 2004, then handed certificates to the three women and one man who successfully completed the program, which runs at least a year, but for most of the graduates, much longer than that.
The graduates each had missteps along the process, but all regained their footing and were able to complete – a testament, Judge Ashworth said, to why a relapse does not result in immediate release from the program.
“I really shouldn’t be here today,” Graduate Dylan said in a particularly-emotional statement to his peers. “Get through it; you can do it.”
Dylan, fighting back tears, then looked over the large audience of current participants and encouraged them: “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
After last week’s ceremony, 196 people have graduated from Lancaster County Drug Court – the 62 graduation ceremonies each filled with inspiring words and recitals of hardships and past feelings of hopelessness.
“You graduates inspire me to keep pushing,” said Forbes, who was co-keynote speaker along with Wendell Metzler, a Lancaster County police officer who had direct interactions with Forbes, arresting him and engaging in at least one scuffle.
The two have now become close friends. Metzler was Forbes’ best man at his wedding; Forbes has baby-sat Metzler’s children.
Along with personally congratulating the graduates – showing each of them their police booking photos in a comical respite - Judge Ashworth illustrated the impact of the program, now running for 14 years.
Perhaps most staggering was Judge Ashworth’s recognition of the 54 babies born free and clear of any drugs/alcohol as a result of their parents being involved with Drug Court. Children that, without their parents’ involvement, would, in all likelihood, have be born addicted.
Seventy-nine people are currently in Drug Court, and it appeared most of them attended the Dec. 11 ceremony at the Lancaster County Courthouse.
The program involves weekly or monthly sessions with Judge Ashworth, drug/alcohol screenings and other requirements, under close supervision of Lancaster County Parole/Probation.
Completion can result in reduction or expungement of charges, which was the case for Angela, who graduated last week after a 15-month stretch in the program.
Angela reminded the mass of attendees, “Recovery is a journey, not a destination.”
She paid off all of her fines and court costs along the way. In fact, Drug Court participants have paid $136,652 in restitution dues – money that likely would not have reached the victims without the strenuous program.
Also in attendance last week were many individuals who collaborate to keep the specialty court effective, including: Cheryl Ondechek (Assistant District Attorney), Melissa Porter (Assistant Public Defender), three probation/parole officers who worked closely with the graduates, and others from local government departments, agencies and counseling services.
(Attached is a painting by Christian Leakway and attached to the graduation brochure.)
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